The Camino de Santiago, with its centuries of history, has long been a beacon of adventure and retrospection for pilgrims from all over the world. In December, this ancient trail comes alive in a special way. While most walkers choose to walk its kilometres in the warm temperatures of spring and summer, winter presents itself as a challenge, but also as a unique opportunity for those seeking a deep connection with the Camino and nature.
In another post, we told you how special it is to do the Camino de Santiago at Christmas. But, if you prefer other more homely plans, the rest of the month of December is still a good option, do you want to know why? Keep reading!
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Why do the Camino de Santiago in December?
Doing the Camino de Santiago in December is a brave choice that undoubtedly rewards those looking for a unique and enriching experience. While winter may seem challenging with cold temperatures and shorter days, this season brings wintry landscapes and historic towns decorated with Christmas lights that create a magical atmosphere on the Camino de Santiago.
The fields and mountains, along with the stripped tree-lined roads, offer a beauty that is unique to this season. Each stage of the Camino becomes a winter postcard that will remain etched in your memory forever.
In addition, the quiet and contemplative atmosphere of winter is conducive to reflection and introspection. This gives you the opportunity to overcome physical and mental obstacles, strengthening your determination and self-confidence as you move towards your destination.
Advantages of doing the Camino de Santiago in December
One of the biggest benefits of walking the Camino de Santiago in December is the smaller influx of pilgrims compared to the summer months. The trails, guesthouses and hotels are less crowded, which means you will have time and space to yourself. This greater privacy will allow you to enjoy the route in a more intimate and relaxed way.
Tranquillity and reflection
The winter season brings with it an atmosphere of tranquillity and reflection. The days are shorter, but the calm that comes with the night is perfect for those seeking a more introspective and spiritual experience.
The winter landscapes you will find on the Camino de Santiago are simply breathtaking. The snow-capped mountains of Lugo and Ourense and the stripped trees create a backdrop that will make for a magical and visually stunning experience.
Inconveniences of doing the Camino de Santiago in December
Variable weather conditions
December can be unpredictable in terms of weather. In Spain, December is already a very cold month, especially in the interior of the peninsula, so routes such as the French Route and in particular areas such as Logroño, Burgos, León and O Cebreiro can be quite challenging.
Rainfall also comes into play in this month. Water can make the route difficult, as you can find muddy roads and even areas cut off by overflowing rivers. Depending on how cold it is that year, you may also encounter snow as early as December in inland areas. The coast generally has milder temperatures, but in winter temperatures can drop as low as freezing.
Keep in mind that all these factors can increase the likelihood of colds and injuries from slipping on icy surfaces.
The days are considerably shorter in December, which means you will have fewer daylight hours for walking. This can limit the distance you can cover in a day and require more careful planning of your day.
Fewer services available
Due to the low season, you may find fewer routes and services available on the Camino de Santiago in December. Some hotels and restaurants may be closed, which could affect your accommodation and dining options. Be sure to do your research in advance to avoid unpleasant surprises.
Because many of the Camino’s services are seasonal and only operate in the busiest months, there are alternative routes where no hotels, guesthouses or restaurants will be open. The two routes that do maintain a minimum of services open are the Portuguese and French routes, as they are the two most popular routes and have an influx of pilgrims all year round.
Which route of the Camino to do in December?
Given the challenging weather conditions, it is advisable that you consider shorter routes. We recommend those that can be completed in about a week. In addition, it would be wise to choose stages that pass through populated areas, where we can take shelter in case of rain or storm.
Also, keep in mind that December is low season, so it is likely that certain accommodations, restaurants and other services will be closed. If you venture to make your pilgrimage at this time of year, we recommend the Portuguese Way and the French Way.
The Portuguese Way is one of the most recommended routes to do in December. Either of its two variants (both the Interior and the Coast) are of great natural beauty and have a great cultural heritage. In addition, they run at low altitude and do not cross any mountains, so the weather on this route is mild.
On the other hand, if you are considering a slightly longer pilgrimage, the most obvious choice is the French Way. It is important to bear in mind that it is not necessary to complete it all at once, but you can divide the total route into parts and do them at different times, even in different years.
In addition, being the most popular route, the quality of services on this route is usually higher and more regulated, which becomes a real relief during the cold nights on the Camino.
What to take on the Camino de Santiago in December?
Preparing properly for the Camino de Santiago in December is essential to ensure a comfortable and safe experience. Winter conditions can be challenging, but with the right clothing and equipment, you can fully enjoy this adventure. Here is a list of what you should consider bringing:
- Layer and dress warmly: Temperatures can be chilly in December, so pack thermals, long-sleeved shirts, windproof and waterproof trousers and a warm rain jacket. The key is layering, which will allow you to adapt to temperature changes during the day.
- Hat, gloves and scarf: protect your head, hands and neck from the cold and wind. These accessories are crucial to prevent loss of body heat.
Proper footwear: a good pair of waterproof hiking boots is essential. You will also need woollen or thermal socks to keep your feet warm and dry. Consider carrying a second pair of socks to change during the day if necessary. Also remember to bring comfortable slippers or flip-flops to rest your feet in after the hike.
- Sturdy backpack: A comfortable and sturdy backpack will help you carry your belongings efficiently. We recommend a backpack with a capacity of 30 or 40 litres. To walk without back pain, remember that the total weight of your backpack should not exceed 10% of your own weight. And if you don’t want to carry the whole backpack, but you need to take with you all your day-to-day utensils, you can hire the services of luggage transfer between stages.
- Rain jacket and rucksack cover: Winter weather can bring rain, so a rain jacket and waterproof cover for your rucksack is essential to keep your gear dry.
- Water bottle: Even in winter, it’s important to stay hydrated. Carry a sturdy water bottle and refill it whenever you can.
- Headlamp: The days are shorter in December, so a headlamp will come in handy if you need to walk in the dark or search through your belongings.
- External battery and adapters: Make sure you have an external battery to charge your devices and adapters for plugs if you are travelling from outside Europe.
- Pilgrim documents and credentials: Don’t forget your ID card (or passport if you are travelling from outside Spain), your pilgrim credentials and any important identification documents.
Celebrations and festivals in December in Galicia
Galicia is a land rich in tradition and culture. Despite the wintry climate, this region in northwest Spain offers a series of celebrations and festivities that will immerse you in the richness of its cultural heritage.
6 December is a bank holiday in Spain. This day commemorates 6 December 1978, when Spaniards voted in a referendum in favour of the Spanish Constitution that is currently in force. On this date, the State Administration and the Armed Forces hold various commemorative events.
Immaculate Conception Day
Immaculate Conception Day is celebrated on 8 December. This religious celebration commemorates the conception of the Virgin Mary. Since Spain has a Catholic tradition, this makes it a public holiday throughout the country.
As in many other parts of the world, Christmas in Galicia is a special time. Christmas markets fill the town squares, offering handmade products, decorations and traditional culinary delights such as turrón and polvorones. Also, don’t miss the opportunity to try cava or Galician wine.
Please note that, due to these festivities, it is likely that many restaurants, accommodation and other services will be closed on 24 and 25 December.
St. Stephen’s Day
The 26th of December is St. Stephen’s Day. In Galicia, it is an occasion to enjoy family meals and continue with the Christmas festivities.
On December 31st, in many Galician cities such as A Coruña and Santiago de Compostela, popular races known as “San Silvestres” are organised. These often costumed and festive races are a fun way to say goodbye to the year while burning calories before the New Year’s Eve festivities.
New Year’s Eve
New Year’s Eve in Galicia (and the rest of Spain) is celebrated in a unique way. In many squares, people gather to eat the twelve lucky grapes to the rhythm of the chimes of the tower clock. This ritual is followed by live music and fireworks that light up the night sky.
If you finish your pilgrimage on 31 December in Santiago de Compostela, you can eat your grapes in the Obradoiro square following the chimes of the Cathedral!
In short, whether you are planning your own winter pilgrimage or have simply enjoyed exploring this journey through this post, remember that the Camino de Santiago always awaits you. Whether in December or at any time of the year, this trail offers a journey of self-discovery, beauty and connection that will linger with you long after you arrive in Santiago de Compostela.